Rainbows At Your Front Door is a new sporadic feature from Phil Cordaro about the bright side of PC titles that received a less than stellar initial reaction from the press. First up, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine.
Hey everybody and welcome to the latest episode of the True PC Gaming pod..oh right. Welcome to the inaugural issue of what will probably be a sporadic feature known as “Rainbows At Your Front Door”. You see folks, site overlord Adam “The Animal” Ames sometimes makes subtle suggestions that I should write for the site at some point. I often counter this internally with a claim such as “What am I, some kind of writer???” This of course inevitably leads to the counterpoint that I am indeed actually some kind of writer, which sure makes me feel a smug sense of self-superiority over the argument I just won against myself in my own head.
So anyway, it has become a sort of inside joke with Adam that I seem to find something to like about almost every decent game out there, no matter how maligned. I really enjoyed the conversation we had about underrated games and there are a million of them as far as I’m concerned. I wanted to do a little feature about giving some of these games a second look. I plan to write a bit about some titles that weren’t super hits but had many redeeming qualities and are definitely worth checking out (at least, in my humble opinion).
Now, I’m sure the PC gaming master race reading this is probably thinking I’m insane when it comes to Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. After all, we’re talking about a game where you play as a roided out dude in crazy power armor shooting at an assortment of weird monsters and other roided out dudes in crazy power armor. But give me a chance! This game is actually really cool, and I feel that there is a lot going on to differentiate it from the glut of overwhelmingly brown, ultra violent third person shooters clogging the market.
First off, the game has a pretty unique play style that combines the mechanics of a character action game with those of a third person shooter. Much like the McDonald’s McGriddle, it is a combination that totally shouldn’t work, but somehow does. Your character, Captain Tidus (I know, I know) can carry one of a small assortment of hilariously powerful looking melee weapons that actually have a surprisingly robust system of combination attacks associated with them. You have basic quick attacks, stunning blows, powerful area of effect strikes, and gloriously violent finishing moves. These finishing moves are actually the only way to restore your health in the game, so the mechanics cleverly force you to run in and finish off a guy by hand every now and again.
On top of that, our pal Tidus also carries around a crappy side arm with infinite ammo, along with an all-purpose bolter rifle which is sort of like an assault rifle designed by an 8-year-old boy because the bullets are the size of grenades and explode after they hit you. You can also lug around two other ranged weapons at any given time, and the game has a pretty nice spread of weapons with different specialities available. There’s a plasma rifle which has an advantage against armor, stalker bolters and lascannons that are more effective at range, melta guns and storm bolters for using up close, and a “vengeance launcher” which basically functions as a timed sticky grenade cannon. If there’s one thing to love about the Warhammer 40k universe, it’s the way everything is ludicrously overpowered and fantastically ornate to the point that it loops back around and becomes cool again. Being able to experience all of that ridiculousness up close is reason enough to try out this game, but there’s a lot more to it than that.
One cool thing about Space Marine is that all of this weaponry is nicely balanced in the context of the foes you face off against. Since you only have free choice of your spare 2 ranged weapons at any given time, there’s always a small gap in your offensive capabilities that might leave you at a disadvantage against certain types of enemies. This never really gets frustrating, and is in fact very smartly done throughout the campaign because you always need to watch out for those guys you’re poorly equipped against. Through enemy strengths and weaknesses, the game really encourages you to try out different weapon types, and you’ll likely settle on a loadout or two that plays nicely to your strengths.
The surprising amount of variance in possibilities means that quite a few different playstyles are viable, and the game never really becomes stupidly difficult or easy based on your weapon selection. For instance, using the game’s awesome Thunder Hammer as your melee weapon also means temporarily giving up your ranged weapons except your bolter and side arm. This potentially leaves you vulnerable to enemies with powerful long range attacks, but it also means you’ll wade through swarms of dudes in melee situations. Alternatively, grabbing some long-range weapons means you’ll easily pick off those guys at a distance, but may run into trouble up close. “Mixing it up” is a sort of cliche used in game reviews for a reason; because it’s something that developers strive to do in order to keep the action from becoming stale.
The different possibilities for weapon loadouts and groups of enemies you face throughout the campaign makes Space Marine one of those games that walks this tightrope very nicely. There are even a few sections in which you man stationary cannons, fly around with a crazy jetpack that gives you awesome aerial attacks, and defend elevators or ships from oncoming waves of enemies. In many games, these sorts of set pieces often feel like contrivances that change things up for the sake of it, but Space Marine really strikes that balance.
On top of a surprisingly well-designed campaign, Space Marine’s multiplayer offers a genuinely fun experience. You’re given a nice array of competitive and cooperative modes, both of which net you experience that unlocks new loadouts, weapons, grenade types, and perks. Sure, it sometimes feels as if the game is blatantly stealing a few elements of Call of Duty’s multiplayer levelling system, but it’s executed well in an interesting environment with novel gameplay. Competitive multiplayer also has a series of achievements associated with it which will unlock all sorts of different armor pieces for your characters.
There’s a huge range of customization possibilities for your characters, and Warhammer fans will probably delight in spending hours painting their guys based on their favorite chapters and characters. Much like the single player game, both multiplayer modes have some interesting balance quirks brought about by a rudimentary class system. Some players prefer the heavy firepower of the devastator class, while others might opt for the jetpack and melee based assault class or the versatile tactical class. All three seem useful in different contexts and it can be fun to radically alter your playstyle throughout each session by changing up classes.
Ironically, I feel that the best aspect of Space Marine’s multiplayer is based on the fact that it wasn’t a huge hit. There are just enough players online so that you’ll find people to play with, but the game isn’t popular to the point of attracting the hyper competitive crowd that will break the game and constantly abuse ridiculous exploits to get ahead. I actually find it refreshing to enjoy a hectic shooter without feeling like I’m going up against aspiring pros that practice for 8 hours a day and kill me 30 times a minute. I suppose that is one of the benefits of games with mid tier popularity. In this case, the atmosphere and lack of extreme skill contributes nicely to a fun and varied multiplayer experience that isn’t completely impossible to approach.
So, there you have it. I can understand why Space Marine didn’t win any game of the year awards, but it really is worth giving a shot. You may be surprised how much enjoyment you get out of it. Or you’ll totally disagree with me… which is entirely possible. For those of you that have tried it out (or better yet, tried it on my recommendation!) please leave your comments and let me know what you think. Until next time, folks!